A CAMPAIGNER who has just returned from rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean has spoken out on river pollution after a new study revealed microplastics are being found in waterways across Britain.

Ocean rower and marine police officer Dawn Wood, from Burnham, said she has been doing her bit to clean up the Essex coastline for more than a decade.

She recently found a crisp packet dating back to 1985 in the water.

A new study carried out by Bangor University and Friends of the Earth has revealed widespread microplastic pollution in the country’s rivers.

Tests in the River Blackwater found 15.1 pieces of tiny plastic per litre of water.

They used fluorescent lighting to identify particles less than 5mm in size such as fragments, fibres and film.

Dawn has also collected some significantly larger plastic waste on her travels.

She said: “I have been on the waters of the Essex coastline both at work and for leisure for the past 16 years.

“The photos represent rubbish collected from the rivers Blackwater, Crouch and lower part of the Thames at Southend.

“I don’t suspect these items were deliberately thrown into the sea, they were probably accidentally blown into the ocean.

“It’s an example of how not looking after your property while enjoying the Essex coastline can result in the pollution of our oceans.

“Other rubbish I find has usually entered the water by being blown into the sea after being littered somewhere along the coast, washed into the sea via storm drains after being littered on streets further inland or deliberately dumped there.

“I found the crisp packet on the bank of the River Crouch near to a storm drain. It is in perfect condition other than the print has faded.

“This goes to show just how long our plastic waste lasts. It’s frightening that every piece of plastic ever produced since the 1950s still exists today.

“After time the plastic will break down forming tiny fragments called microplastics so it never actually goes away – it just breaks down into tiny bits.

“Next time you are at the beach, grab a handful of sand, look through it very carefully and you will almost certainly find tiny fragments of plastic.”

She added: “The plastic in its original form is obviously unsightly, but also is a danger to wildlife who mistake it for food and eat it. It is also an entanglement danger.

“I myself have found dead seabirds entangled in fishing line and the string from balloons – it’s just heartbreaking.

“The microplastic causes a whole other issue as it attracts toxins which live on it.

“It is then eaten by smaller sea life and eventually gets into our food chain.

“In Essex, we have 400 miles of coastline and everyone needs to do their bit to protect it.

“If everyone makes a small change together, we can make a massive difference.”

A Defra spokeswoman said: “The UK is a global leader in tackling plastic pollution and is already making great strides - banning microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, taking fifteen billion plastic bags out of circulation with our 5p carrier bag charge, and announcing plans to introduce a deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers.”